Allied servicemen buried in the Mayenne – Part One

There are 28 Allied Servicemen buried in the Mayenne. In this post, we tell the story of 14 Bomber Command airmen who lost their lives on 10th June 1944, during their mission to bomb Laval airport and stop the German army bringing ammunitions, equipment, supplies, and Luftwaffe squadrons to bolster the German defense against the D-Day invasion force.

Halifax Crew MZ532

Allied Servicemen buried in the Mayenne - Bomber Command Crew MZ532

Sergeant Hugh Bradbury – Air Bomber, Aged 20, from Farnworth, Lancashire.
Sergeant Leslie Brotherton – Air Gunner, aged 24, from Spalding, Lincolnshire.
Sergeant Philip Gaines – Wireless Operator, Aged 22, from Rotherham, Yorkshire.
P/O Thomas Henderson – Pilot, Aged 27, from Perth, Australia.
F/O Norman Henderson – Navigator, Aged 21, from Herne Bay, Kent.
Sergeant Stanley Peake – Engineer, Aged 36, from Banbury, Oxfordshire.
Sergeant Edward Wicks- Air Gunner (rear), Aged 33, from Romsey, Hampshire.

Halifax Crew MZ684

Allied Servicemen buried in the Mayenne - Halifax Bomber Crew MZ684

Sergeant Frederick Beales – Air Gunner, Aged 20, from Hamilton, Canada.
Flight Officer Gilbert Daniel – Navigator, Aged 22, from West Hartlepool.
Flight Officer John Ellyatt – Engineer, Aged 27, from West Hartlepool.
Flight Officer (Robert) Keith Marshall Air Bomber, Aged 29, from Glasgow.
Sergeant Albert Mason – Air Gunner, Aged 28, from Bolton.
Sergeant Alfred Perkins – Wireless Operator, Aged 23, from Islington, London.
Willem Van Stockum – Pilot, Aged 33 from the Netherlands.

Amongst the thousands of Allied servicemen who took part in Operation Overlord in June 1944, two brave Halifax Bomber crews from RAF Melbourne in Yorkshire lost their lives on the same night just south of Laval. They are buried in Laval Vaufleury cemetery and this is their story:

Allied Servicemen buried in the Mayenne - Bomber crew positions


After completing their team training at 61 Base (RAF Topcliffe in N Yorks) the crew of Halifax MZ532 were posted to 10 Squadron at RAF Melbourne on 26th April 1944. Pilot Thomas Henderson took part in several training flights and bombing practice whilst the rest of his crew familiarised themselves with their equipment and prepared their plane for its first mission. On 19th May, just 3 weeks after they arrived, they set off to attack the marshaling yard at Boulogne with 11 other planes from RAF Melbourne. They took off at 11.37 pm, reaching their target at 1.06 am. Flying at 11,000ft Sgt Bradbury released their bombs, having identified the red and yellow target indicators. The weather was good, with no cloud and the attack was well concentrated. The flight log shows that opposition was “moderate”, returning to base by 3.01 am.

5 nights later, on 24th May, they took part in a bombing attack with 4 other crews from 10 Squadron, this time targeting a gun site at Colline-Beaumont, Pas de Calais. Just 2 weeks before D-Day, this mission would have been part of OPERATION FORTITUDE, convincing the German high command that the Allied invasion was planned for Pas de Calais and not Normandy. MZ532 took off at 10.38 pm, reaching the primary target 1 hour and 40 minutes later. Visibility was good and their bombs were dropped on green target indicators, from 10,500ft. No opposition was encountered and they returned safely to Melbourne at 1.51 am.
A mining mission just 3 days later (27th May) was canceled due to a problem with the port outer engine. On 1st June, their target was Urville, south of Caen. 23 aircraft, including MZ684 (summary below), left Melbourne just after 11 pm. Henderson’s crew dropped their bombs from 13,500 feet at 1.11 am, landing back at the base in Yorkshire 5 1/2 hours after they had left, at 3.36 am. The next night, they were back in
France targetting Trappes, Twelve aircraft left Melbourne that night to join 83 other Halifax’s, 19 Lancasters, and 4 Mosquitos from other bases in the UK. 15 Halifax and 1 Lancaster were lost during this mission (12.5% of the aircraft taking part). On 5th June, as part of OPERATION OVERLORD, they joined an armada of 1,012 aircraft (551 Lancaster, 412 Halifax, and 49 Mosquito) to bombard the coastal batteries at Fontenay, Houlgate, La Pernelle, Longues, Maisy, Merville, Mont Fleury, Hoc, Ouistreham and Saint-Martin-de-Varreville. MZ532’s target was the Gun Battery at Mont Fleury. Just 800 meters inland from Gold Beach and still under construction, the battery had four 122mm Russian Guns although some of these were positioned out in the open as their casemates had not yet been completed. The battery was captured later that morning by D Company of the 6th Green Howards. Their penultimate sortie was part of a 337-plane mission to bomb railway targets at Achères, Juvisy, Massey-Palaiseau, and Versailles on the 7th of June. 195 Halifaxes, 122 Lancasters, and 20 Mosquitoes took part. 17 Lancasters and 11 Halifaxes were lost that night, 8.3% of the forces involved. On their way back to Melbourne, MZ532 were intercepted by a German Focke-Wolfe
190 fighter plane. Sergeants Wicks and Brotherton opened fire and the FW 190 was destroyed.


After completing their team training at RAF Riccall in the 1658 Heavy Conversion Unit; the crew of Halifax MZ684 were posted to 10 Squadron at RAF Melbourne on 12th May 1944. Pilot Willem Van Stockum was in the cockpit just 2 days later, with Flight Lieutenant Le Cudenec, practicing circuits, climbs, and landings. And on 19th May he accompanied the MZ630 crew as a 2nd pilot. By 1st June, his crew were ready for their
first mission: the bombing attack on Urville, south of Caen in Halifax LV825. This was the location of the Abwehr listening station where German troops were able to identify Allied bombers and fighters approaching, and relay warning messages to anti-aircraft defenses. 23 aircraft, including MZ532, left Melbourne just after 11.14 pm, joining 78 other Halifaxes and 8 pathfinder Mosquitos to take out this crucial target before the planned Allied invasion. They bombed the primary target from 13,500 feet at 1.12 am, landing back at the base at 3.22 am. On 2nd June, they took part in the bombing of Trappes Marshalling Yard.
Leaving RAF Melbourne at 10.34 pm, they arrived at the primary target at 12.55 am, dropping their bombs from 10,500ft and returning to base at 3.17 am.

By June 6th Bomber Command had helped to destroy nearly 75% of the French railway network; making large-scale strategic movement of German troops by rail practically impossible. 5th/6th June: As D-Day dawned, the crew left on a bombing mission to attack the Mont Fleury Battery on Gold Beach. As part of the 1012-strong air fleet tasked with taking out the German defenses, Van Stockum’s crew successfully bombed their target at 4.41 am from 12;000ft. Later that morning, following a further bombardment from the British naval cruisers HMS Orion and HMS Belfast, the battery was captured by D Company of the 6th Green Howards. Leaving at 10.24 pm on the 6th June, their penultimate mission was to bomb Saint-Lô. They reached their primary target at 00.56 am on the 7th of June and dropped their bombs from 2,500ft. returning to base at 4.01 am. A strategically vital crossroads, more bombing raids were unleashed on Saint-Lô throughout June and July 1944 destroying nearly 95% of the town which was finally liberated by 29th
Infantry Division and by the 35th Infantry Division in July 1944 during OPERATION COBRA.

9th/10th June 1944

Their Final Mission

With the D-Day invasion underway in Normandy, both crews were tasked with bombing Laval Aerodrome on the night of the 9th of June 1944. In advance of the expected Allied invasion, Laval had become a base for The German Bf 109Gs from Close Reconnaissance Group 13 at the end of April 1944. The 3rd Squadron was also stationed here until mid-June 1944 and at times the group headquarters was also located here. The last unit stationed here was the III. Group of Battle Squadron 4 with their Fw 190F/G, which flew fighter bomber missions over the advancing allied troops in Normandy.

Thirteen aircraft left RAF Melbourne just after midnight on June 10th, and only 11 returned.

LW716 with F/L LeCudenec at the helm was first away at 00.20 am, bombing the target area at 3.06 am from 2,800ft due to low cloud at 3000ft and reported moderate to severe flak. MZ532 took off next, at 00.21am. They arrived at the target site but were hit by Flak before they could drop their bombs. Pilot Henderson, presumably flying at low altitude, headed west and Sergeant Bradbury jettisoned the bombs near Château La Blancherie before the Halifax came down close Le Pont Alain, 53940 Saint-Berthevin. MZ684 were the seventh Halifax to leave the base at 00.30 am. Hit by Flak, Pilot Van Stockum flew south before the plane came down near Les Poiriers, 53260 Entrammes, jettisoning their bombs near La Babinière farm before crashing.

A letter home – 7th June 1944, from Willem Van Stockum:

Officially we did not know it would start on June 5th, but the instructions we got, the mysterious doings, our route, and what we could expect while in flight, made us fairly sure that this was The Day. We did our job in difficult circumstances, although there was not a very big opposition. … I am free tonight and am glad of it, for the strain is great and we had not a moment’s rest in the past days. Our kind of job needs hours of
preparation, the operation itself takes 6 hours and after that debriefings, etc. Then a meal, to bed, sleep, and again preparations. Of course, we did not know beforehand it would be rather easy, and the nervous
strain makes your breathing faster. Soon it will be worse when the Germans get more information. But I would not want to miss this time for anything, and I am very thankful that I resisted the temptation to go to the other station, where Bierens de Haanals is, for then I would be now between two squadrons and perhaps have missed all this. My crew is perfect, calm, and matter-of-fact, and one cannot find any signs of being nervous. I sometimes have the feeling I am the only one who is…. but perhaps they think the same thing of me. I have the feeling there is an enormous energy in everybody. The whole station comes out to see us off when we take off, with their thumbs up and this is a pleasant feeling.” From a letter in Dutch to his mother Olga Boissevain van Stockum by her son Willem; translated by Olga’s niece Engelien de Booy. (C) 1944, 2000 by the Estate of Hilda van Stockum. Permission to include here courtesy of the Estate by John Tepper Marlin, Executor.

2024 Commemoration events:

On 10th & 12th June, flowers will be laid in memory of the crews of MZ532 & MZ 684, and the Spitfire pilot Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Austen Harrison.

They will be informal ceremonies and all are welcome. Please bring a floral tribute if you can. Times and map links are listed below.

For more information email:

10th June 2024 10.30 am at the MZ684 Memorial near Entrammes:

10th June 2024 11 am at the MZ532 Memorial near St Berthevin:

10th June 2024 11.30 am at the Vaufleury cemetery in Laval:

12th June 2024 10 am at La Pellerine Cemetery:

28 Allied servicemen buried in the Mayenne

There are 28 Allied servicemen buried in the Mayenne, we’ll be featuring more of their stories soon so don’t forget to bookmark our website or follow our FB page: You can read about Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Austen Harrison, a spitfire pilot, who died on 12th June 1944 in our magazine archive:

This article first appeared in the Mayenne 53 Magazine Spring 2024 edition which you can download HERE.